For many drivers, obtaining auto insurance is just another everyday fact of life that entails getting some quotes, comparing premium prices, and choosing the policy that will work the best for the coverage and protection that they need.
But for some people, it isn’t quite so easy. There are certain circumstances that can hinder your chances of getting affordable auto insurance – and in some cases, can make your chances of obtaining a policy extremely difficult. One such situation is a DUI. While there is technology being developed to lower the number of drunk drivers, it is still a major problem in the United States.
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States With the Harshest Penalities for DUI:
- Arizona: Jail for at least 10 days and a minimum of $1,250 fine (undergo education/treatment, perform community service, installation of an ignition interlock device and possible license suspension)
- Alaska: Jail for at least 3 days and a minimum of $1,500 fine (minimum 90-day license suspension, possible alcohol treatment program)
- Connecticut: Jail for at least 2 days or up to 6 months and a $500 to $1,000 fine (45-day license suspension, possible community service, installation of ignition interlock device)
States With Lenient Penalties for DUI:
- Pennsylvania: No minimum jail time and a $300 fine, no license suspension
- South Dakota: No minimum jail time and a $1,000 fine, no ignition interlock device required, minimum 30-day license suspension
- District of Columbia: No minimum jail time and a $300 to $1,000 fine, no ignition interlock device required, 6-month license suspension
These penalties are for first-time offenders and typically become harsher for repeat offenders. Regardless of how lenient your state is, your insurer will not be. While there are some auto insurance companies that may “forgive” the first at-fault car accident or a first speeding ticket of its policyholders, no auto insurer will ignore a conviction that is as severe as a DUI. Driving under the influence is a very serious offense that can lead to harm of the driver, as well as to others. Therefore, auto insurers pose some serious consequences if you've been caught.
The Effect of a DUI on Car Insurance:
There are typically two occasions when an auto insurance company will review a person’s driving record. These include at the inception of a new auto coverage policy, and at the renewal time for existing auto insurance policies. Therefore, if a DUI occurs right after the policy renewal for an existing auto policyholder, then there is a chance that the insured’s DUI may not be discovered for quite some time – provided that the state the person resides in does not require an SR-22 to be filed.
However, if the individual goes to apply for new coverage, then it is likely that the DUI will be uncovered when his or her driving record is reviewed at the time that the new coverage begins. In either case, if the DUI is discovered, it is likely that the individual’s auto insurance rates will increase – in some cases, dramatically – until the DUI conviction drops off of his or her driving record. In most instances, it will take at least 5 years for that to happen.
If an accident and / or a moving violation such as a speeding ticket also occurred along with the DUI, then these criteria will also be taken into consideration by the driver’s auto insurance company when determining the increased premium rate.
Further, when a driver has multiple driving-related violations within a short period of time, there is a likelihood that his or her driver’s license could be suspended, or even revoked, due to the number of points that are accumulated in a points system state.
Likewise, if a driver’s vehicle ends up being impounded following a DUI charge – especially following a DUI that results in the suspension or revocation of the driver’s license – this, too can lead to very high auto insurance premium rates.
What Is an SR-22 and Why Is It Required?
In most states, drivers who are convicted of a DUI will be required to file an SR-22 form with the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles. The SR-22 form is required proof of financial responsibility – and an insurance company must provide the SR-22 form to the Department of Motor Vehicles.
The length of time that the SR-22 is required can vary from between one and five years. This will be dependent on the state in which the DUI took place. Most auto insurance companies will charge an additional fee for the filing of the SR-22, in addition to the higher auto insurance rates for the DUI itself. This is often very expensive. For example, in the state of Alaska, an SR-22 may cost you $2,000 for 5 years.
How to Bring Your Rate Back Down:
Unlike other traffic citations, you can't just pay a fine, drive safe and bring your car insurance rate back down. A DUI has major consequences on car insurance. That said, there are a few options drivers with a DUI can take. Some of these choices could help keep the driver’s auto insurance premium rates from increasing as high as they would otherwise with the DUI charge.
- Fight the charge. While it's unlikely that the charge will disappear, perhaps, you can fight for the DUI to be reduced to a reckless driving charge. However, remember that lawyers do cost money, and there's no guarantee that the charge will be reduced. Furthermore, reckless driving is still likely to raise your auto insurance rate, though not as much as a DUI would.
- Wait it out. Yes, it will take awhile to wait out a DUI conviction, but that may be your only option. Research your state's laws and talk to your insurer to find out how long a DUI will stay on your current record. The infraction will never truly "disappear" but some insurers only look at a certain number of years on a driver's record.
- Shop around. Go ahead and get a few car insurance quotes. Compare away, but remember that a DUI is a serious offense. Don't expect to find a rate similar to your auto insurance premium before the conviction.
- Take a safe driving course. Your state may already require you to join an alcohol education program, but you can also enroll in a safe driving course. Also known as a defensive driving course, these classes teach road safety and can demonstrate to your insurer that you are serious about being safe behind the wheel. A defensive driving course may also help reduce your points if your state is a "points system" state.
Considerations to Keep in Mind
If a driver with a DUI on his or her record is contemplating whether to keep current coverage with a rate increase or to obtain new coverage, there are some factors to keep in mind. First, obtaining new auto insurance following a DUI conviction is typically more of a challenge than just going with a rate increase on one’s current coverage.
For drivers who may still be considering a switch to a new auto insurance carrier for their coverage after obtaining a DUI charge, then it may be best to work with an independent insurance agent or company, or an insurer that specializes in high-risk drivers. Doing so will likely provide better available auto insurance coverage options.